Jack Tiffany Benjamin
August 9, 1913 – February 11, 1945
Only a small boy when his father died in the 1918 influenza epidemic, Jack Benjamin grew up in Albany with his younger brother Richard, called Dick, and his mother Mildred. The family lived on North Allen Street and attended St. Andrew’s, where Jack and Dick sang in the choir. Jack went to the Milne High School where his classmates called him “Benny.” His classmates said he was quiet, but he wasn’t so quiet that he didn’t join the dramatics society and serve as master of ceremonies at the school pageant. His nephew, Dick’s son Joel, remembers being told that Jack had lots of friends and liked art. At Milne in Jack’s senior yearbook his friends said he was always ready with a joke or a helping hand. They jokingly predicted he would move to Paris and open a dressmaking company!
After high school Jack Benjamin spent three years at the State College for Teachers, now the University at Albany, and worked at the Albany branch office of the Paine Webber Company. In 1940 when the first peacetime draft in American history had just begun, Jack didn’t wait to be called. He joined the New York National Guard and was assigned to Troop B at the New Scotland Armory. The troop, formerly cavalry, had begun training to fight tanks. Sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, the troop was merged, along with all other National Guard units, into the United States Army. Instantly doubling the size of the Army, the National Guard units were gradually broken up and their men sent to fill out existing Army divisions.
Jack Benjamin was sent to the 78th “Lightning” Infantry Division. Stationed at Camp Butner, North Carolina, the division began training troops and officers in 1942 in response to the declaration of war against Germany and Japan. Several months into their training the division was given a new assignment: rather than preparing themselves for combat they would be charged with training replacement troops to be sent to other divisions. In six months over 40,000 men were put through training by the 78th division. In March of 1943 the men began their own training, only to find their comrades with the rank of private and private first class stripped from the division to serve as replacements — just like the men they had been training not so many months before. The division was reorganized and sent to Camp Pickett in Virginia. Most of the officers were sent out as replacements themselves and new recruits brought in again. The remaining long timers in the division weren’t sure they’d ever see combat.
Finally, in September of 1944 the 78th Infantry Division was given orders to ship out — but Jack Benjamin wasn’t with them. By now he had risen through the ranks to become a second lieutenant. Like the privates, officers were often pulled from their units to replace those wounded or killed in combat. While his friends in the 78th went off to Europe, Jack shipped out in November to the South Pacific. He went to the 21st Replacement Depot at Hollandia, New Guinea. The Replacement Depots acted as clearinghouses for soldiers being sent to the front lines. Soldiers fresh from the United States were matched with companies in need of their specific training skills (though often basic infantry training was all that was called for). The replacement soldiers were designated a company for the duration of their travel and then reassigned upon arrival to their new divisions.
Jack Benjamin’s replacement company boarded LST 577, sailing to Lingayen Gulf, north of Manila. The invasion of the Philippines had begun in January of 1945; now one month into the conflict replacements were sorely needed. The LST was designed to carry tanks in amphibious landings (thus the name LST — “landing ship, tank.” Navy sailors joked that the initials stood for “large slow target”). Though not designed as troop carriers, LSTs were pressed into service to ferry both men and supplies during the war. Jack’s ship joined a convoy and was en route when it was found by a Japanese submarine. LST 577 was hit amidships by two torpedoes and broke in half.
Jack Benjamin’s nephew recalls that the family learned the details of Jack’s death in a letter from a fellow officer. Over half of the men on board survived the initial attack. Jack and another man were able to find some floating wreckage. Official Navy policy was to protect the convoy first; evading or destroying the attacking submarine had to be done before the rescue of any surviving sailors or soldiers could be undertaken. Awaiting rescue, Jack wearied and let go of the wreckage. His body was never recovered. Jack was listed as missing February 11, 1945 and declared dead two months later. He was 31 years old.
A memorial plaque in memory of 2nd Lt. Jack T. Benjamin is mounted among the tablets of the missing at the Manila American Cemetery at Fort Bonifacio in the Philippines. Jack is also remembered on the tombstone of his mother, Mildred, at Albany Rural Cemetery, with the inscription
Lt. Jack T. Benjamin 1913 – 1945 Gave his life for his country at sea